ADDRESS AT ACFCGN MEETING, MURDOCH UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY GARDEN, PERTH, 31.09.16.
ACFCGN - outline of talk on network
It was 1995 when Fiona Campbell and I called a meeting of people interested in community gardening at Randwick Community Centre. It had been a decade before that when Glovers Community Garden made its start on state government health department land in Rozelle, and it had been four years since Angel Street Permaculture Community Garden had made its own start on disused education department land in inner urban Newtown.
Angel Street was started by permaculture designer and educator, Bronwyn Rice and others, after their request to South Sydney Council to start a city farm in Sydney Park had been rejected. They had noticed the disused land and they secured use if it. Like Glovers, Angel Street Community Garden continues today.
We expected maybe ten or so to turn up for that meeting at the community centre. Imagine our surprise when close to 40 walked through the door. Something was happening here and it looked like it could be bigger than we thought.
One of those people was Darren Phillips. Darren had been researching community enterprise including community gardens, however they seldom knew of each others' existence. Maybe we need a network to bring these gardens together, suggested Darren. He went on to create it.
Slow at first, then acceleration
The number of community gardens grew from the 50 or so documented in the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network's (ACFCGN) 1996 inventory to more than 600 today. The first community garden was started at Nunawading in Melbourne, in 1977.
Growth was slow at first. Sydney didn't get its first community garden until Glovers started in 1985. As far as I know, Brisbane's first was Northey Street City Farm on the banks of Breakfast Creek, in 1994. The number started to increase at a quickening pace through the second half of the nineties, then picked up more as the new century opened. That was the start of an acceleration that continues today. Now, no one knows how many community gardens there are in Australia. The closest approximation is found on the ACFCGN website mapping system, however that remains an underestimation.
Numbers are important because they signify the scale of the practice of community gardening and lend us advocacy power — politicians are influenced by numbers. Being able to cite a number estimate for community gardens and their gardeners has already proved of value in defending the practice from attack.
From fringe to mainstream
The practice of community gardening started on the the social fringe where all good things are born, and over 25 years or so became embedded in the social mainstream.
The adoption of enabling policy by local government had a lot to do with this. I recall being asked in 2007 to produce what must have been one of the first policy direction document for a council so that they could enable community gardening and provide resources for them. Many more have followed and today community gardening is seen as a valid urban landuse. Achieving that was one of the ACFCGN's early goals. Mission accomplished there.
Many councils still view community gardens only as recreational venues, as one of the landuses they allocate space to. They are this, but research evidence shows that they are also places that build a sense of place and a sense of belonging as they bring people together to manage an area of public or institutional land.
I must acknowledge the valuable role of community gardening in preserving, through use, the biodiversity of our agricultural plants through seed saving and sharing. Community garden seed savers play an important role in maintaining the continuity of our traditional food plant varieties.
As well as recreational, environmental and social values, community gardens can also improve the food security of people. In giving them some control over the types of food they eat and how it is produced, the practice of community gardening give practical value to the idea of food sovereignty.
Community gardens play another role in our culture, too. They are repopularising the idea of the commons, the idea of the shared, public resource available to all. This is another of those important roles because as the population and density of our cities increase, the availability of open space becomes even more important.
Now that community gardening is an established practice, where do we take it next? I suggest one direction is popularising the role of community gardening in food security — which is access, year round, to a supply of good food sufficient to support an active life. Along with asserting some control over our food supply, this makes community gardens and city farms foundation organisations within the fair food movement.
Another idea I think worth popularising is community gardens as public commons, as access to urban land. Making public land an open resource in our towns and cities makes community gardening a part of the open-source culture that is changing how we produce and access resources and how we can live better through sharing.
Chronology of community gardening and the ACFCGN
The chronology was drawn up by participants at the ACFCGN national meeting at Fern Avenue Community Garden in Adelaide in 2014.
1977: Nunawading Community Garden established in Melbourne.
1979: Collingwood Children's' Farm established in Melbourne.
1982: CERES receives a lease to build an environmental education centre, including a community allotment garden, in Brunswick East in Melbourne.
1985: Glovers Community Garden starts on health department land in Rozelle in Sydney's Inner West.
1991: Angel Street Permaculture Community Garden opens on education department land in Newtown in Sydney's Inner West.
1994: Northey Street City Farm makes a start on the banks of Breakfast Creek in Brisbane.
1995: Perth City Farm opens.
1995: The Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network (ACFCGN) is created by Darren Phillips following a community garden meeting at Randwick Community Centre in Sydney.
1996: ACFCGN published its first national inventory of community gardens and city farms. The document is updated and reprinted the following year as news of more gardens comes in.
1998: Cultivating Communities, an NGO contracted to the Victorian state government to deliver community gardening and associated, food-related services to social housing tenants, is set up. This enables people to earn a livelihood through community gardening education and development.
1999: The ACFCGN website is set up by Fiona Campbell, one of the Network's Sydney contact people.
1999: The Network's journal, Community Harvest, is produced by Russ Grayson in Sydney, drawing on stories from community gardeners.
2002: The Good Practice Guide for community gardens is published by Cultivating Community.
2003: Ben Neil, the Network's Victorian contact and Cultivating Community CEO, comes to Sydney to reinvigorate the Network.
2004: ACFCGN national conference in Bendigo, Victoria.
2005: Winter edition of Community Harvest produced.
2005: ACFCGN national gathering at Coolum on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
2005: ACFCGN Award for Excellence made to Ravenswood Community Garden in Launceston, Tasmania.
2005: Edible Gardening conference in Brisbane.
2005: Publication of the resource kit by the South Australian Community Gardens Network, an associate of ACFCGN. Claire Nettle, then ACFCGN state contact who did her PhD thesis on community gardening that was published as a book, was instrumental in developing the resource kit.
2006: Putting Down Roots — Learning in the Garden event in Adelaide.
2006: ACFCGN develops fact sheets for community garden education and makes them available on its website.
2007: ACFCGN Cities Feeding People conference in Melbourne.
2009: ACFCGN annual general meeting in Sydney works on finances.
2010: Tasmanian community garden conference in Devonport, Tasmania.
2010: Community gardening conference at Canberra University.
2010: Growing Community — Nurturing Community Gardens event.
2011: Community gardens poster and management plan template developed.
2014: ACFCGN annual general meeting at Fern Avenue Community Garden in Adelaide.
2016: ACFCGN national meeting at Murdoch University Community Garden in Perth, Western Australia.